Koos van Os: Builder of the house in Linggarjati


Three hundred years ago the lives of Indonesians and Dutch got intertwined. Our Dutch ancestors, often under very hard circumstances, crossed the oceans and settled down in different parts of a world unknown to them. They sailed to America, Japan, China, the West and the East and discovered the most beautiful country of the world: Indonesia.

In 1888, our grandfather Adriaan van Os and his wife left for the former Dutch Indies. He was a teacher. In Batavia (now Jakarta) they had three children. The youngest one, Koos van Os (Jacobus Johannes) was born on 26 October 1894. Around 1920 Koos van Os returned from the Netherlands – where he was educated – to the Dutch Indies, which he always considered his motherland. On 7 December 1923 he married Jane Elisabeth Leonie Dom, Lizzy, in Yokjakarta. Lizzy’s great-grandfather on father’s side, Jacobus Dom, was born in Antwerp on 12 June 1752. He arrived in the East as a colonial soldier with the ship ‘De Harmonie’ in 1773 and married Srima van Medono, born in Yogjakarta. Jacobus Dom died in 1810 in Yokjakarta and was buried on the old cemetery behind the market. Lizzy’s great-grandfather on mother’s side was a Portuguese named Pereira. This ancestor traveled to Macao (China) where he married a Chinese woman, and both of them finally landed in Surabaya. There, one of his sons (Lizzy’s grandfather) founded the first ice factory.

Koos van Os died on 22nd February 1934 in Linggadjati (now called Linggarjati) and was buried in Cheribon (now called Cirebon). He was only 39 years old.

As all papers and documents were lost during the Japanese occupation in World War II, much of what we know about my father was derived from a diary kept by Bob Bär (uncle of the in the Netherlands generally known Mgr. R.Ph. Bär), proxy holder of my father’s company Technisch Bureau J.J. van Os and the N.V. Algemene Industrieele Maatschappij (Algim), both in Cheribon.

From Bär’s diary I quote the following text about Cirebon: ‘Cheribon is an important residence in the Province of West-Java. This province has almost 2 million inhabitants (1931) of whom approximately 3.000 Europeans and 80.000 Chinese. The low lands in the northern part are known as one of the biggest rice areas of Java. It also has ten sugar factories and a big methylated spirit factory for processing treacle, a waste product of the sugar industry. The capital Cheribon (approximately 82.000 inhabitants of which 1.500 Europeans) houses among other things the big ‘Mestfabriek Java’ where several wagonloads of cattle bones from all over Java are delivered every day to be processed to bone meal. With phosphates from the mineral-rich southern mountains, this factory produces chemical manure for the entire archipelago. A disadvantage is the stench. The factory is situated at the seaside, but when the wind blows from the north, the stench spreads over large areas of the town. In the center of Cirebon town there is the powerful B.A.T. (British American Tobacco Company), the largest cigarette factory of the Dutch Indies.

Cheribon used to be an important seaport, mainly for the hinterland, the densely populated eastern Preanger, Tjiamis, Tasikmalaja, Garut. Cheribon is situated between the two main towns on Java’s northern coast, 250 km east of Batavia and 240 km west of Semarang. It has proper railway connections and roads in the four main directions.

The port itself, like all ports on Java’s north coast, suffers from silty deposits and sandbars and could only be reached by coasters. Large vessels have to anchor offshore, sheltered by the far protruding Cape Indramajoe, so high seas do not affect offloading. The Tagalsch Prauwenveer provides a large fleet of loading prawns (looking like Rhine barges) for the transport of shiploads to the port and custom sheds.’

A little bit further Bär describes his first acquaintance with Linggarjati: ‘The ‘daily’ arrived in Cheribon at 5 p.m., where I was collected by Koos van Os. We drove straight to Linggajati, a mountain village some 35 km over Cheribon on the slopes of the Tjeremai, a 3078 m high volcano. The journey took about 45 minutes. There I met Van Os’ family, his wife Lizzy and the two girls Cora and Joty [note of the author: at that time Wim hadn’t been born yet]. Van Os has bought a premises in Linggadjati consisting of a house built on piles with a beautiful view and a large yard. He changed this house into a brick building and extended it with some meters all around. As the family continued to live there, it could not be done at once. The extension is a great success.”

Kadastrale inschrijving huis Van Os
Familie Van Os in Linggadjati
Huis van fam. Van Os in Linggadjati

About the company of Van Os, Bär writes: ‘Then we went to the ‘Tegel- en Betonwarenfabriek Elenbaas’ (tile- and concrete-making plant). Mr. Elenbaas has died recently and his widow has agreed with Van Os that the latter would take over the flourishing company adjacent to the house. The tile-making factory had a young foreman by the name of Katjong working for her. He started to work there as a small boy and was highly trained by Elenbaas. Katjong is a born manager. He knows all the ins and outs of the job and guides his workers in a most efficient way. The company has four old, manually operated tile-making presses of a French make, which produces excellent floor tiles. That they were excellent is proved by the following anecdote: the company received a very important order: the sultan of Kassepoehan was not satisfied with the state of the tile floor in one of his kratons (palaces). So our company was asked to lay the new floor for the entrance, part of the royal showpiece.

The tile- and concrete-making plant in Cheribon and the sawmill in Rembang are the first industrial enterprises of N.V. Algim. The Technisch Bureau J.J. van Os, a commercial partnership of these enterprises, is selling the Algim-products where liable. The assortment consist of building materials, hinges and locks, sanitary equipment, pipes and tubes and other products. For these building materials Van Os is the district agent of some reknown importers, like for instance W.J. Stokvis in Batavia, a company in Soerabaja and for Orenstein & Koppel, importers of narrow-gauge materials. Originally Orenstein & Koppel had sent Van Os to the East Indies as he is an export on narrow-gauge materials. This agency is important because of the many sugar plants and agricultural companies in the area. So all together the Technisch Bureau sells a wide range of highly demanded products. Furthermore, the first thing to be extended is the mining sector. The mountainous southern part of Cheribon is rich in minerals like phosphates, kaolin (porcelain earth), natural stone, etc, etc. This also is a sector in which Van Os is interested and in which he has gained quite a lot of experience. On the second day of my employment I also met a number of important customers for building materials: the heads of the provincial department of transport and communication, the regency council and the public works department. Koos van Os knows them all personally and the reception was cordial everywhere. Our new company has not made any supplies yet so there are no complaints either. The expectation however is that the Technisch Bureau van Os might be competitive. The main competitors are Lindeteves Stokvis and Carl Schlieper, two big organizations that can offer all kinds of things, but are mainly interested in big projects. For such technical services the tailor-made products of the tile- and concrete-making plant are essential, as appears from two important projects in Cheribon. The Telecommunications Department wanted to replace all the overhead telephone lines, that were a blot to the town, by a suitable underground telephone cable. Van Os offered an adequate and at the same time relatively cheap solution, namely the construction of half-open ducts at a small depth that are covered with concrete slabs. That way the cable is protected and at the same time is invisible and accessible for possible repair work. A second big order came from the Public Works Department. The many open gutters and ditches were to be replaced by a proper sewage system. After an intensive prior examination, our concrete department was selected to do the job. The sewage pipes were to be laid rather deep and therefore had to be strong. As there was no scientific institute to measure the required strength, one had to improvise. Five sewage pipes were placed next to each other and covered with a shelf wide enough to hold five meters long narrow-gauge rails. The required strength was determined by piling up rails on the shelf till the required strength was reached, i.e. till the pipes broke. This test proved satisfactory and resulted in an order for our company for many kilometers of pipes. This project also made the company well known both in the town and its surroundings. Another product we offer are pipes with a diameter of 100 cm which are highly wanted for digging water wells. Without these pipes digging wells was a risky job because of the danger of the walls caving in. Other novelties are the time and money saving shaft rings and the ‘septic tank’ that put an end to the cesspool and all its disadvantages. This is an enormous improvement for the town, which yielded us many grateful customers.’

About our father’s death Bär writes: ‘Koos van Os died from uremia in the Cheribon hospital. His death came as a bolt from the blue. He died so young that we never had a chance to ask him all the ‘whys’ in his short life. Why did he settle in Indonesia? Why Indonesia? Etc. etc.

A young man immigrates to Asia, Indonesia. He looses his heart, not only to the new motherland but also to a young Indonesian girl. Also because of his love for Lizzy he decides to settle down instead of returning to Holland. He thereby broke with the political view in The Hague: ‘The Dutch-Indies were to be exploited, they were not to become a colony for people to settle down.’ Could it be that because of this view not only the emancipation of the Indonesian people, but also of a large group of Dutch settlers in Indonesia as well as the emancipation of Euro-Asians was not only delayed for decennia but finally also led to the rejection of the Linggadjati agreement?

Koos van Os invested all his energy, his know-how and his opinion in his new homeland. He was a practical and pragmatic man. “That’s enough talking, let’s act” was his slogan. He constructed the first water supply system in Linggarjati, for which he used bamboo pipes, as well as the sewage system and telephone cable network in Ceribon. Ceribon has grown into a city with over a million inhabitants. There are plans to turn Ceribon and its environments into a province. The kabupaten of Kuningang dreams of a ‘Linggarjati’ university. The problems to be solved in Ceribon like in other cities (there are cities with over 10 million inhabitants in Asia) are enormous. In the global world in which we live, these problems cannot be solved within territorial boundaries.

The ‘Linggadjati Conference’ is not only a story about countries. It is a story about people. About Sjahrir, Schermerhorn, Lord Killearn, Van Mook: all of them were visionaries, realistic people. They knew that the moment had come for the birth of the Republic of Indonesia. The ‘Linggadjati Conference’ will go into history as the cradle of a grand and beautiful country, a country with its own brilliant culture. A country about which every Indonesian should be able to say: ‘I am proud of Indonesia and I dedicate all my energy, talents and efforts to my home country’.

Why is Linggarjati today, in the year 2002, still important? Due to modern media and technology the world has drastically changed since the village was spelled as ‘Linggadjati’. The world has become smaller and more accessible. Prosperity and well-being cannot be limited to a small area like America and Europe. Money makes people go blind. Outside the main industrialized countries, globalization did not bring integration and harmony; on the contrary, in most cases it brought a disastrous change, eleminating existing cultures, languages, old trades and visionary wisdom. Half of the 6.000 nowadays spoken languages are not passed on to the children. Within one generation we witness the loss of the social, spiritual and intellectual inheritance of mankind. The globally oriented media have joined the world into one single life pattern. The maladjusted influence of the Western society is present in every village, in the slums, in every country and province, 24 hours a day. Baywatch is the most popular television program in New Guinea!

The ‘Linggadjati Agreement’ aimed for democracy and pluralism. What we need in this 21st century is a new sense of pluralism, a real global democracy in which unique cultures, whether they are big or small, are given the right of existence. We shall have to learn to live together. What we need is a global declaration of solidarity and mutual dependence. May this seminar organized by Interfel be an initial impetus to such a new view for the 21st century. Then the spirit of ‘Linggadjati’ will contribute its mite to the 21st century.

Joty ter Kulve-van Os